AKRON, OH – Former presidential hopeful Rick Santorum said Wednesday that President Barack Obama is "directly assaulting" religious freedom and that his administration has implemented policies that force Catholics to abandon their faith.
"We have a president who, for the first time in American history, is directly assaulting the First Amendment and freedom of religion,” Santorum said. “He is going to tell you what to do in the practice of your faith. He is forcing business people right now to do things that are against their conscience, that they will have to – if you're a Catholic – you'll have to go to confession … to confess that you are complying with a government program that is a sin in the Catholic Church."
The former Pennsylvania senator did not say what government programs he was referring to, but during his presidential run he frequently noted a controversial government mandate requiring religious institutions to include contraception in their health care coverage.
Santorum was in Ohio stumping for former rival Mitt Romney at the rally titled "Who Shares Our Values?" His campaign was largely defined by his Catholic faith and views on social issues, and in Ohio on Wednesday, he said a President Romney would work hard to defend religious liberty, an issue he called "close to my heart." Santorum cited as proof Romney's 2008 award from The Becket Fund, a non-profit institute that aims to protect religious freedoms.
While Santorum was passionate about defending the First Amendment, he was also passionate about Romney’s choice of running mate -- Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI). Ryan's name drew thunderous applause here, where homegrown senator Rob Portman was also considered for the position.
"What Paul Ryan stands for in conservative circles and in the media and in this country, for those who know him, is someone who is willing to challenge the status quo and have bold ideas to confront the problems of this country in a truthful fashion," Santorum said.
Santorum, who was Romney's top challenger for the GOP presidential nomination, has stumped in and around Pennsylvania throughout the summer. After a contentious primary, Santorum faced questions about his commitment to helping Romney going into the fall. His endorsement came in a late night email that was interpreted as a sign of his tepid support.
But on Wednesday, Santorum indicated that he fully supports Romney's decision to add the 42-year-old Wisconsinite to the ticket. He called it the most important decision Romney has made during his campaign.
Though Santorum is no longer running, the packed room of enthusiastic supporters was proof that he still has pull in the state where he narrowly lost to Romney on Super Tuesday. He told the audience how important it is that they get involved in the swing state, which he called a must win.
"Romney and Ryan have to win here," Santorum said. "If they do, chances are they will win."